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The Power of Eye Contact: For Booth Staffers And Beyond

Eye contact is important for trade show booth staffersEveryone has heard the saying, “The eyes are the windows to the soul.” So how can your eyes help you communicate with others in a sales or business setting, public speaking situations or in your trade show exhibit?

Michael Ellsberg, the author of The Power of Eye Contact, shows us the eyes play an important role in all face-to-face communication.  Though meeting women was his motivating force for learning more about eye contact, no he can’t beam women to him with one glance across the bar.  Ellsberg wanted a better way to connect with women other than exchanging resume talk:

  • “Where do you work?”
  • “Where are you from?”
  • “What do you like to do in your free time?”

It turns out that eye contact is one the most intimate components of communication. This led to his idea of Eye Gazing Parties, in which you stare into the eyes of a complete stranger for three minutes without saying a word — sounds intense!  But enough on how to find your soul mate, how can eye contact help me in my professional life or on the trade show floor?

Enter former President Bill Clinton (and no, we are still not talking about how to pick up women).  Mr. Clinton is one of the greatest examples of how to effectively communicate to others.  He does this by establishing great eye contact, personal space and presence in order to make the person who he is talking to feel as though they are the only two people in the room.  Regardless of your personal or political thoughts about Mr. Clinton I want you to take a look at this video of a clip from a presidential debate between the first George Bush and Clinton in 1992.  I recommend watching it without sound and try and notice how he is using eye contact, personal space and presence:

Notice the difference?  So what can I get out of all of this?  I have pulled out some key takeaways from the book for professional development; I’ll let you read the other chapters on how to pick up women or attract a guy.

Key Takeaways:

Sales and Business

The eyes are the windows to the soul because you cannot hide your emotions from the outside world; this is why we often avoid eye contact.  Eye contact and the correct body language have always been important in sales and business, but it is often over looked.  For example if a friend of yours just took a lifesaving drug, and their aunt had the same condition they could convince her to buy that drug even if they botched every sales rule in the book, because they would sell it with conviction and enthusiasm.

Takeaway: If you believe in what you are selling or promoting it will show through in your body language and eye contact.  Even if you don’t have all of the facts and mess some of the words up, people believe eye contact and body language over words.

Public Speaking and Presentations:

Eye contact is often very overlooked in visual presentations.  Diane Diresta, author of Knockout Presentations and a communications coach says “The biggest mistake people make when giving PowerPoint presentations is that they read the slides.  It transforms you from an expert in your subject that is offering your expertise into a mere reader of notes.”  Diane recommends the “Touch, Turn and Talk” method.  “Touch” the first bullet point, then “Turn” to your audience and “Talk” to them about the content.  There is NO reason to look at your slides while you are speaking about them.  She recommends always end your last words on a pair of eyes before you turn back to the slides.  This will keep your audience connected as you turn away from them.  Speaking directly with the audience and making proper eye contact allows you to focus nearly all of your energy on connecting with your audience personally, which is why they came to see you live in the first place.

Takeaway: Connecting with audiences through eye contact and speaking to them directly will allow you to have a much more personal and effective presentation.

Networking or Booth Staffing:

Ellsberg talks about how he attended a networking event with the goal of talking with at least three big-time executives.  When the event started he patrolled the room with one thing on his mind: How can I get myself in front of one of the big shots?  He found himself alone, until he took on a different approach.  He decided to try and use his eye contact to convey the message “How can I help you?” After the change he found himself a lot more approachable and in several conversations with people and ended up exchanging information with several high-level executives.

Takeaway:  Eye contact and body language can drastically change the outward perception that people have of you.  Next time you’re in your trade show booth or at a networking event, relax your jaw, get into the right mentality and make solid eye contact.

Now that we know how eye contact can play a role in our communication, here is how Ellsberg recommends we become more “eye bold.”  These steps are to be done in order; don’t move on to the next one until you are comfortable with the first step.

5 Steps to Becoming More Eye Bold:

1. Making progressively lengthier eye contact with a friend, family member in an intentional exercise.

2. Making infinitesimally brief eye contact with strangers.

3. Making longer eye contact with strangers, such as wait staff, sales clerks and customer service reps.

4. Making substantial eye contact during conversations with friends, family, co-workers or people you know during.

5. Making substantial eye contact during conversations with people you just met.

The important lesson that the author conveys is that your eyes communicate a lot about a person and truly are the windows to a person’s emotional state.  Whether you are booth staffing or bar hopping, eye contact can help you connect better with people.

Booth Staffing GuidebookGive your booth staffers even more help with engaging trade show attendees with The Booth Staffing Guidebook, yours free by clicking here.

About the Author

Jordan Hanlon was a New Business Development Analyst at Skyline Exhibits, located in St. Paul, Minnesota.

4 responses to “The Power of Eye Contact: For Booth Staffers And Beyond

  1. Fantastic post Jordon. I loved how you included the video…I did as you suggested and turned down the sound and it was pretty astounding.

    I always had an issue with eye-contact. It just seemed to intimate to me. I recently took improv classes and discovered that it just comes naturally now. And I can tell you it really does make a different in the booth. I find I listen much better now too as a result.

    1. Traci, I’m glad that you liked the post. The video does do a great job at illustrating some of the points in the book. And you are right it is a bit uncomfortable at first to make solid eye contact with people, especially strangers, but it does make a big difference and it sounds like you have taken steps to improve your eye contact. An improv class sounds like a great way to improve many of your face to face communication skills.

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